US President Barack Obama and Republican rival Mitt Romney clashed over illegal immigration in their testy second televised debate three weeks before Americans go to the polls.
The issue came up in the second half of the 90-minute face-to-face, with Romney accusing Obama of failing to come up with an immigration reform bill as he had promised before assuming office in 2009.
“When the president ran for office, he said that he would put in place in his first year a piece of legislation, file a bill in his first year, that would reform our immigration system, protect legal immigration, stop illegal immigration. He didn’t do it,” Romney charged.
Romney said he would encourage immigration by people with skills while preventing undocumented immigrants from accessing some government services.
Obama fired back by saying he had in fact tried to push through reform but ran into Republican opposition in Congress.
“That’s not true. I sat down with Democrats and Republicans at the beginning of my term, and said: ‘Let’s fix this system, including Republicans previously on the other side,” Obama said.
“It’s very hard for Republicans to support comprehensive immigration reform if their standard-bearer says: ‘This is not something I’m interested in supporting,'” he added.
The president also argued that in the Republican primaries the former Massachusetts governor rejected the “Dream Act,” which would legalize undocumented immigrants who came to the country as children, and supported tough anti-immigrant legislation in Arizona along the Mexican border.
“Governor Romney said he wasn’t referring to Arizona as a model for the nation. His top adviser on immigration is the guy who designed the Arizona law, the whole thing,” the president said.
“That’s his policy and it won’t help us grow.”
The controversial Arizona law lets police stop and request ID from people suspected of being undocumented immigrants, although other even tougher parts of the law were struck down by the Supreme Court.
Critics of the Arizona law argue that it encourages racial profiling.
The government says some 11.5 million illegal aliens live in the United States.